Thursday 15 October 2015

Bridge of Spies ... A tale of two parts

STEVEN Spielberg's Bridge Of Spies, based on a true story, shows an elderly white male remaining steadfast in his belief in the US justice system and US values, even though they're being threatened by Americans themselves.
  The film inspired me for the first part, but it lagged in the second part because it resembled a spy film, with lots of going back and forth between the two rival nations.

  Viewers are kept on tenterhooks, not knowing whether the spy exchange will take place at the aforementioned bridge, but this being a Spielberg and Tom Hanks collaboration (their fourth), viewers can expect a happy ending, and a triumph of the American desire of not leaving anyone behind in enemy territory.
  In a way, you can call this film Schindler's List Part II, because Spielberg trains his lens on a white man who gets people out of problems.
   The first part of Bridge is tight and tense, and Hanks doesn't deviate from his All-American good- guy persona.
   He plays insurance lawyer James B. Donovan in 1960s New York. He's a wily man who is pedantic when it comes to words ("a man represented by MY client") and is a partner at a firm headed by Thomas Watters Jr (Alan Alda).  He's a devout Christian who lives an upper-middle-class life with wife Mary (Amy Ryan) and three children.
   The Red threat and the fear of nuclear war are shown when school kids' eyes well up watching a public service announcement about nuclear holocaust. Also, Donovan's son gives him a lecture about what to do if there were a nuclear attack.
   Russian Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested by the FBI on suspicion of spying. Donovan is handpicked to represent Abel to show the world that Americans treat their prisoners humanely and provide them legal representation. The FBI, and Americans, expect Abel's trial to be an open-and-shut case.
   Donovan protests, because he's not a criminal lawyer. However, he overrules his wife's concern and dives into his new task with gusto.
   His spirited defence of sensitive Abel, who pines for kindness and a smoke, and likes to paint and listen to Shostakovich, irks Americans, who are up in arms against him defending a commie. He's up against angry Americans (some even shoot at his house), including a biased judge and policeman. Heck, even his boss ignores him.
Tom Hanks (right) and Mark Rylance
(centre) in 'Bridge of Spies'.
  He loses his case but encourages the judge not to impose the death sentence on Abel. He takes his case to the Supreme Court and gives a rousing speech to the judges, telling them that the best way to beat the commies is to show them "what our values are". Still, he loses the appeal 5-4.
   This first part proceeds at a quick pace, because viewers know that American U-2 spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers will have to  be shot down over Russia so that secret negotiations between Donovan, representing the US, and Russia can start.
   Donovan is dispatched to East Berlin, but at about the same time, the Berlin Wall is being built and troops show no mercy in mowing down those who seek to escape to the West.
   An American doctoral student in Berlin is arrested, so Donovan takes it on himself to kill two birds with one stone, meaning he wants to free both Americans while handing over only Abel.
  The part in East Berlin is when the firm goes into its spy mode and gets bogged down in technicalities. Donovan rushes all over the city showing off his decent command of German, and with a cold to boot.
  The CIA insists he focus only on Powers but good-hearted Donovan has a bigger goal.
   I didn't feel much tension and danger in the second part. In fact, the closest Donovan gets to any danger is when a bunch of white thugs demand his Saks jacket just after he crosses the border into East Berlin.
  The quality of the film is commendable, and the photography and light music are excellent, but watching a portly man with receding hairline drinking scotch and having a God complex may not be everyone's cup of tea. It's also way too long at 141 minutes.
  Hanks acquits himself well, but he's not really stretching himself playing a man like Donovan. Abel calls Donovan a "strong man" because the latter refuses to give up when the chips are down.

3 out of 5 stars

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